Wonder Woman is crushing it in theaters right now, but we don't want to give away any spoilers, so let's talk about some classic Wonder Woman stuff from her comic book career instead, specifically her invisible jet. Is Wonder Woman's invisible jet even possible?
Wonder Woman made her wonderful debut in 1941, thanks to DC comics. A year later the world would be introduced to her own comic book and some pretty remarkable accessories. The lasso of truth and the bracelet of submission are just a few items that this superhero keeps on her person. The vehicle of choice for long distance travel, though, is pretty intriguing. A jet plane that can totally disappear. That was dreamed up in 1942. Well, now it's 2017, so how is that invisible jet coming along? How close are we to having things that can become invisible?
Invisibility is a pretty tall order. After all, how can you take something that is there and make it look like it's not really there. In order to reach technology like this, we must take baby steps. So, let's see how far along we’ve come toward making physical objects invisible.
Last year Panasonic demoed a TV that disappears, sort of. This TV made quite the splash at a tech fair in Japan when it was demonstrated for the first time in public. Basically this TV is a glass pane that acts like a window to your cabinets. You can open it, close it, and easily see all the items in your cabinet. However, when you turn on the signal, this glass pane turns into a high definition TV by using projectors and the glass itself. When you turn off the signal it "disappears" and reverts back to being just a clear glass window in your cabinet. Pretty cool stuff, but it's not quite invisible. The glass pane is always there, and just because you can see through it does not mean it's invisible. The glare from distant lights would be noticeable, but it's a pretty good first step towards thinking about physical items that disappear. To be truly invisible would mean it could not be detected or touched. For that we'll have to continue to explore other scientific breakthroughs.
Researchers have recently unveiled a meta-skin that is invisible to radar. This material is a flexible gel covered with little bits of a liquid metal that absorb radar frequency waves. Something wrapped in this meta-skin would be virtually invisible to radar signals, meaning it could not be detected if radar were the only means of detection. Now we're getting closer to true invisibility. The initial attempts were tested on an artificial skin in the shape of a glove. Whoever wears this glove would be able to prevent the glove (and thus the hand within the glove) from being detected with radar. This technology has a lot of applications for military use but is still pretty far from being in the marketplace. Regardless, it’s a step towards making something that is not detectable. This is more or less like Harry Potter's invisibility cloak, but for radar instead of optical vision.
So, how about regular visibility? There have been a few examples of how using small cameras and LED screens working in tandem to make things “disappear.” Mercedes-Benz did a marketing campaign where they covered one side of a car with LED screens and the other side with cameras. This creates a way for the side covered in the screen to broadcast what the cameras on the other side are seeing. This, more or less, made it so that the car could be driving along and people on one side would only see what’s on the other side of the car, thanks to the cameras and screens. This is getting closer, but still not quite invisible since only one side of the car could participate in this illusion.
What about materials that can disappear? Is there any way to make something disappear using the many incredible breakthroughs in materials science? For that answer we'll have to turn to the world of nano-materials. Currently scientists are working on some pretty remarkable materials that are able to cloak objects and make them seem to disappear in front of our eyes. The only issue is that these attempts all work in very, very small settings. Not like a jet, more like on the microscopic level. Scientists are able to place this newly designed material in front of something and have it redirect light in such a way that it appears as though the hidden object is not there at all. Here's the tricky part though. As of now this technology only works in very small settings, nowhere near anything useful to us in our day-to-day life. Common use of this technology is still very far away and the research is extremely expensive, but there are people working on this stuff right now.
In the meantime, we'll just rely on our current, most advanced way of becoming invisible, wearing camo. We've got a long way to go before we can hide a small physical object, much less a giant jet, but at least there's some work being done in labs right now. Sadly, no one in the science world has even begun the process of making the lasso of truth.